Could the gay ‘lifestyle’ undermine monogamous marriage?

New publisher Pantera Press’s Why vs Why series gives longtime gay activist Rodney Croome and longtime family conservative activist Bill Muehlenberg equal space to put their arguments for and against gay marriage, and rebut each other (with the debate continuing online). It’s a good summary of common arguments for and against gay marriage.

While I generally preferred Croome’s stance, he struggled a bit with one of Muehlenberg’s arguments. Essentially, Muehlenberg thinks that gay marriages would differ from current marriages in more than just the gender mix. He cites multiple gay sources on how, to put it mildly, long-lasting monogamous relationships are not the norm in the gay community. He doesn’t want the idea of an ‘open’ marriage to get started by extending marriage rights to a community that may be reluctant to give up its old ‘homosexual lifestyle’ ways.

In response Croome says that the surveys Muehlenberg cites are small or biased in favour of relatively promiscuous guys (sometimes deliberately, to target those at risk of HIV). While this may be true, the one random survey I know of found that of gay men those who were sexually active, less than a quarter had had just one partner in the past year. For straight guys, well over three-quarters had had just one partner. There are currently major gay-straight differences on monogamy.

Though Meuhlenberg’s factual claim is basically right, I don’t think it is as strong an argument against the institution of gay marriage as he believes.

While ‘open’ relationships may work for some couples, they probably aren’t the couples who will seek gay marriage. People get married because they want to sign up to the institution of marriage, where monogamy is still the ideal (though obviously not always the reality). 95% of people in relationships still support the idea. This may be one reason why a survey of gay people found that while they overwhelmingly supported gay marriage being available, 45% did not want one themselves.

But even if there were some open gay marriages, would this be imitated in heterosexual relationships? The norm of marital monogamy has survived the sexual revolution for good reasons. Heterosexual adulterers haven’t broken monogamy as an aspiration and it seems unlikely that their gay equivalent could do so either.

On the subject of gay marriage, Ryan Heath has set up a gay marriage blog.

43 thoughts on “Could the gay ‘lifestyle’ undermine monogamous marriage?

  1. “He doesn’t want the idea of an ‘open’ marriage to get started by extending marriage rights to a community that may be reluctant to give up its old ‘homosexual lifestyle’ ways.”
    This is a weak argument. I don’t have data on hand, but it’s not uncommon for married people to not be monogamous.
    And as Andrew says, it may be difficult to extrapolate from populations to those likely to get married.

    I’m not sure why the effect Bill mentioned would be an argument against gay marriage – as it assumes that it is a relevant argument. Who is to say that it is relevant?


  2. Monogamy is only valuable so long as people want it. If straight people observed the gay lifestyle and as a result have a lower desire for monogamy, then their marriages would be more likely to be open. This may disturb Muehlenberg, but it doesn’t disturb me.

    Nonetheless, I think observation of gay marriages will hardly change the preferences of straight people at all. It’s not as if they are unaware that promiscuity and open marriages are options now.


  3. If monogamy is so intrinsically fragile that non-monogamous gay relationships will somehow lead to the the end of monogamous straight relationships then this ought to be allowed to happen. To try and artificially preserve monogamy, if indeed it is an institution that broader society no longer values, is a worthless endeavour.


  4. Sacha – I do have data on hand (the Sex in Australia survey) and monogamy is the overwhelming practice of married people – 2.4% of married men and 0.8% of married women reported more than one sex partner over a 12 month period. Take out the people who were already in effectively dead marriages, and very few people in otherwise healthy marriages are straying from the marital bed.

    Robert – Unlike the gender mix issue, I do think sex within the marriage (not just monogamy, polygamy too) is a key element of what makes marriage different from other kinds of relationships. In marriage, you give up some short-term pleasure opportunities for longer-term benefits.


  5. I have one or two heterosexual friends who are on the right end of the distribution for number of partners. I wonder if he thinks they shouldn’t be allowed to change their ways and marry.


  6. Aargh, aargh and aargh! I can’t help but be squeamish about any social construct based on who is ****ing whom. What happens in the bedroom should stay in the bedroom, even if it’s nothing. Until we can accept that, people will continue to be discriminated against because other people don’t like who or what turns them on. I can’t escape the feeling that this is driven by sexually frustrated martinets, taking prurient pleasure in dominating innocent victims. Queen Victoria is dead, when will the Victorian Age end?


  7. Given the incidence of people who find out their real fathers aren’t who they think they are, I think the incidence of ‘cheating’ in monogamous hetero relationships is higher than what the data may record. Not everyone will admit to such things even anonymously.

    The high rate of ‘cheating’ in gay partnerships boils down to one thing – women aren’t as obsessed with sex as men. Therefore there is less reciprocation for ‘on the side’ relationships among heteros than gays. If this gender disparity did not exist, heteros would be as promiscuous as gays


  8. “The high rate of ‘cheating’ in gay partnerships boils down to one thing – women aren’t as obsessed with sex as men. ”
    Haven’t you turned 30 yet Jason? I think it’s more to do with social pressure than real differences. Otherwise, how do you explain the data from New Zealand? You could also try working in places where people have no social inhibitions for some reason or another (e.g., retarded people). What you’ll find is that the only reason that they stop doing it is because someone else stops them.


  9. “Otherwise, how do you explain the data from New Zealand? ”

    One country in a survey run by a condom company? While I am prepared to believe there is something a bit odd about people from NZ, I think there is something wrong with the survey.


  10. come on conrad.

    there are places gays go to where they can be serviced anonymously by other men through holes in the wall.

    how many women would go to something like that?

    if they did, most of the male population would spend the entire day at these places.

    the disparity between male and female preferences for casual sex without love is pretty obvious.


  11. Andrew what is the monogamy rate amongst all heterosexual couples? Because that is really what the studies of gay couples should be compared with. It’s almost impossible to compare married gay couples with married straight couples.

    Also- what about the lesbians? I’m under the impression that lesbians have a higher rate of monogamy than heterosexual couples. Or is it as South Park says “who gives a damn about lesbians”?

    Regardless I’m not convinced by these arguments. Part of the GLBT movement has always been about abandoning traditional ideas of sexuality and that includes monogamy. It’s not surprising that most people aren’t keen on becoming “stepford queers”.


  12. art of the GLBT movement has always been about abandoning traditional ideas of sexuality and that includes monogamy.

    Oh for chrissakes Shem this sort of rhetoric is what plays into the hands of the Muehlenbergs. There isn’t a ‘movement’. Who you bone isn’t a ‘political statement’. There are some people who like boning certain types of people and want access to the same legal protection as other people whose boning preferences are different. Those who don’t want those legal protections don’t need to get them and no one’s legal protections are compromised by every micro fart made by their fellow beneficiaries.


  13. “how many women would go to something like that? ”
    Jason, when I was younger and went to uni, there was a club nearby that I walked home past for over 50s, 55s, etc. The impressive thing about it was that people would actually pick each other up in the line before they even got into the club — thus whilst this example is not quite as extreme, it does highlight that many females are thinking about these things a lot too (including groups we don’t like to think about, like older people), and once you are that old, many people don’t care about things that worried them when they were 18. That’s why I think a lot of the differences are due to social conventions (and possibly fear due to unrelated things, like size differences and violence), not because of lack of desire (and no doubt the same is true of pensioners, who don’t have things like jobs to keep their minds occupied). I’m happy to admit, however, that there may be biological differences, and that there are big individual differences with both males and females (and interactions with age also), although it’s not clear to me how big a factor those differences are (I think they’re generally overstated).


  14. On “the GLBT movement”, it is always dubious to wander into the “homosexual agenda” territory. The phrase has two meanings:
    (1) A desire by GLBTI people not to be treated like crap, or otherwise as some failed version of “real” people.
    (2) The queer-hating version of that old chestnut “the Jewish agenda” (see also “Jewish world conspiracy”).
    All movements aspiring to equal treatment have two wings, with the credos of:
    (1) Please can we treated be treated as legal equals, not some inferior form of the human.
    (2) Any society that treats X group so badly is so corrupt that only root-and-branch transformation will suffice.
    Group (2) make great scare targets, but it is group (1) which end up carrying the day. And when they do, it turns out that institutions which “needed” to be “defended” just adapt and life goes on.


  15. Or is it as South Park says “who gives a damn about lesbians”?
    I think South Park is correct. Apart from the odd bull-dyke, I think lesbian culture is just too normal to get into people consciousnesses.


  16. Jtfsoon- saying there is no GLBT movement is like saying there is was no sexual revolution. They are connected and “queer identity” politics still exist. Most gay people I know (including myself most of the time) aren’t interested in their sexuality being a political statement, but some people are and I am, sometimes when I can be bothered with it.

    And I largely don’t give a shit if it bothers Muehlenberg. My sexual expression should be tolerated, even if it were entirely a choice. People shouldn’t have to assimilate into mainstream culture just to have social toleration or legal recognition. If the Muehlenbergs of the world are bothered by it, I don’t give a shit because they are in the wrong.


  17. I think what you said is pretty much correct. While it might be true that the ‘gay lifestyle’ doesn’t encourage monogamy, I doubt those people are getting married.

    The thing that makes this interesting is that ‘the gay lifestyle’ is dying for a lot of people. The best essay to read on this is Andrew Sullivan’s “the death of gay culture”

    Gay culture is born out of a sub-class of people who were denied their rights. Because society did not accept them they went and created their own. This involved lots of queerness, lots of promiscuity and other things conservatives negatively associate with the gay community. After being told they weren’t normal the gay community said, “fine, we’re proud to be different!”

    There is a growing community of gays who don’t want to be different. They don’t want to be promiscuous and they don’t want to be part of the gay “community”. They’re living in the suburbs, raising kids and just trying to be normal.

    There will always be a place for gay culture, and it is sad to see it end. Many people see this as a sort of self hate. Those who support gay culture see this as people being forced to be ‘normal’ instead of queer. They get very angry at being told what to do, and that anger is quoted by Muehlenberg as proof that gays don’t want marriage. Some gays don’t want marriage, sure. But others do.

    This is what happens when society accepts gay people. When you are comfortable with yourself you are given the choice: do I want to live in the gay community? Some people will always say ‘yes’ and the bath houses will remain open, but for those who say no a choice needs to available to them.

    As more and more people are accepted into their communities they will aspire not to the values of ‘gay culture’ but of the culture they came from. In this case that mean monogamy.

    So this is only going to get worse. Gays are going to become more ‘normal’ and the anomaly that they are not allowed the ‘normal’ right to marry will become more and more odd.

    As Croome points out in his book, the more accepting straight culture is of gay people the faster this transition will be. The new conservative line on gays from Tony Abbott and the conservatives in Britain is “I certainly want to see, just as a general principle, stable committed relationships.” Why conservatives would therefore not do everything they can to encourage stable relationships and the decline of the sin filled ‘gay lifestyle’ is beyond me.


  18. I don’t know if this is useful in this discussion, however I would be shocked if Gays behaved any different towards sex then straight guys.

    Males are by nature polygamous or have a tendency to be so, while females are hypergamous (having one relationship at a time for the most part).

    I’d be really shocked if that behavior wasn’t playing out in the gay community and that the conservative debater doesn’t have a point.

    It’s not necessarily relevant to the discussion, however I would be really concerned if I were in the gay and the socialist redistribution laws went into effect in gay relationships as those affecting straight relationships.


  19. Shem, comment 12- Monogamy rate over a 12 month period for heterosexual males in relationship of 12 months or more, 95.2%; for women 97.6%. Monogamy is strongest when people are in their 30s and 40s (perhaps not coincidentally, the child rearing years) and weakest in the under 20s.


  20. Interesting numbers on monogamy rates, Andrew. Thanks.

    Muehlenberg’s argument is as weak as water.

    It’s for the good of the community, apparently, that gay people not get married. We should be grateful for their sacrifice.

    Apparently some statistics on what a proportion of gay people do is representative of the group.

    It’s the same as judging heterosexuals of all ages by what 19 year olds get up to in Bali and schoolies.

    I must say though, I’m buggered if I know why gay people want to get married. Just live together and be done with it. Why worry about what the state thinks of your relationship?


  21. With all due respect to the otherwise extremely educated, well-informed, curious, and rational posters here, perhaps with the exception of jtfsoon, y’all are ‘doing it wrong.’ With apologies to Margaret Thatcher, there is no such thing as straights and gays, there are only individual men and women.

    And when two of the former bump into each other in a steam room, they will root about 1,000 times more other similar individuals, in about the same time as when of the latter bump into each other at Bunnings.

    This WHOLE issue is – as jtfsoon points out – about men v women; not gays v straights. Gay men are not so incredibly more sexually active than other people because they are degenerates, tragic, or immoral. They are so promiscuous because THEY CAN BE.

    This is what homo XY is unleashed from the two repressive binds of:

    1. Abrahamic monotheism.
    2. XX people.

    Hetero marriages are not more stable, monogamous, or long-lasting because heteros drank different milk at school. They are like that because there is an XX person involved.

    In a state of nature, straight men are just as naturally libidinous, promiscuous, and sexually aggressive as gay men. Indeed, how quickly they revert to that state when they doing 10-20 at Long Bay. 😉

    Once XY and XX get together, there is firstly a clash of conflicting mating motivations. But secondly, there is the world upturning consequences of children.

    The main game in this whole fascinating debate is not gays vs heteros. The main driver of all the complicated issues and dynamics that the ‘gay marriage’ debate smothers is females. This whole debate needs to move from gays and straights and start focusing on what we are really talking about; women.


  22. “Gay culture” is not completely oppositional to “general culture” and it isn’t the case that people can only be involved with only one – an individual’s involvment in one and/or the other may be fluid.


  23. ‘This whole debate needs to move from gays and straights and start focusing on what we are really talking about; women.’

    OK then, I’m listening.


  24. Peter, I’m planning just to sit back with some popcorn and watch things unfold. 🙂

    It would be interesting to hear what a woman thinks about some of the comments made above.


  25. Not really. I, myself, have had this conversation with countless women, men, gay, straight, bi, whatever. Let me give you a heads up. They don’t all think the same. 😉


  26. Given that Tony Abbott has admitted that in his youth, he, himself, lived a similar life to gay men his age – except with the frustrating walls inevitably erected when XX is the object of one’s affection – his “committed relationships” handwaving towards gays is both hypocritical and ignorant.

    How many other kids have been abandoned in pursuit of your “committed relationships,” you creep?


  27. All this seems to be viewed through a heteronormative filter that conveniently ignores so much evidence of heterosexual promiscuity.

    I would like to see much better data on heterosexual promiscuity before any meaningful comparison can be made.

    Schoolies? Football players? Paternity tests? There are plenty of cultural indicators to suggest that heterosexual promiscuity is widespread.

    I remain firm that it would be much easier to get rid of marriage altogether and stop measuring people for tax and welfare benefits based on who they fuck.

    And we should do more to shape heterosexuals out of their belief that their values should be considered the default setting.


  28. Fitzroyalty – See comment 4, for all straight people in the Sex in Australia survey 87% of males and 93% of females reported one partner or less in the previous year, means 1.5 and 1. For gay men, 49% have had one partner or less, for lesbians 86%, means 10.7 and .9. Gay men are clear outliers. For straights, sleeping around is a teens and twenties thing, with most then settling. That there are exceptions (promiscuous heteros, de facto married gays) does not disprove the basic statistical pattern.

    The tax system is quite individualistic; the welfare system is based on household relations and especially the presence of dependent children, but not on official marriage.


  29. I simply don’t believe those figures on heterosexual promiscuity. Allowing for generalisations, gay culture seems more accepting of promiscuity as a legitimate choice than heterosexual culture, where moral hypocrisy reigns. I think heterosexual promiscuity and infidelity are more common than reported.


  30. It was a random sample of more than 9,000, with some pretty frank answers on other questions. Maybe the inner suburbs are an exception, but I see no reason to doubt the broad pattern of numbers.


  31. Surely, ceturis paribus, the average number of sexual partners must be precisely equal between hetero males and hetero females?

    Any reported difference must reflect one or more of the following:

    (i) In the total hetero population, the average number of partners between men and women is precisely the same. However, the female distribution is bimodal. For example, perhaps a significant number of female prostitutes have had a ginormous number of different partners, which accounts for a huge number of the different partners reported by males in the sample of 9,000. But a non-representative – small or zero – proportion of those female prostitutes were captured by the 9,000 sampled.

    Thus, the sample might capture the male (client/John) side of the prostitution multi-partner story, but none of the female-side, which would – by definition – cancel out the effect of reporting higher average partner number for males v females.

    (ii) The males over-estimate their ‘conquests’ either consciously, or by defining ‘sex/partners’ differently than the sampled women, or as an expression of their inflated sense of virility.

    (iii) The females under report, for similar reasons (or the flip side of those reasons) as (ii).

    (iv) In the total population (hetero plus non-hetero), there are significantly fewer hetero males than hetero females, due to the significantly greater % of gay males than lesbians. Thus, in the hetero population, males are akin to the rooster in the hen house.

    The long accepted Kinsey figures – such as 10% of males are gay – have long been discredited. I do not have a meta-analysis of the research in from of me, but am pretty confident that the current consensus is about 4/5% for males, and 2% for females.

    Given that in Australia, the male/female split among the sexually active is pretty even, with a slightly larger number of females, we would expect some impact caused by a net 3% more hetero females than heteros males. Perhaps someone who is more of a stats savant than I, can confirm whether this 3% could account for the differences AN reports above.

    OTOH, in China, for example, we would expect the opposite sample bias, as China’s one-child policy has resulted in a significantly greater % of adult males than females. It would be interesting to see if any similar research has been conducted in China, and if its results confirm my hypothesis.

    Conclusion: I have never accepted the ubiquity of survey’s concluding that hetero men have – on average – more sexual partners than hetero women.


  32. Peter – (i) In the Sex in Australia survey, nearly 20% of men have paid for sex at some time in their lives and 2% in the last year.
    (ii) and (iii) Probably true. People’s memories are often not reliable, and they reconstruct past events from theories of what they think happened. I can well imagine that there are gender differences here.
    (iv) Sex in Australia suggests that exclusive homosexuality is rarer than that; more like 2% for men and 1% for women. However more have had some same-sex sexual experience, about 5% each sex. However young males outnumber young women, so this counteracts your theory.


  33. Lest this all get too serious, I want to say that as a heterosexual man I covet the gay ‘lifestyle’ of open and accepting promiscuity, polyamory or whatever you choose to call it. Monogamy is a social construct and should not be seen as naormative.


  34. Not the polyamory part, fitzroyalty. There is a little barrier to that called ‘jealousy’ that most hetereosexual men are not immune to however much they might want polyamory for themselves, they certainly won’t want it for their partners.

    It is in this sense that polyamory is doomed and against human nature except for the few freaks who are immune to possessiveness. instead people settle for discreet affairs and serial monogamy.


  35. ” Monogamy is a social construct and should not be seen as normative.”

    No, it is normative. That’s the point of ‘social constructs’ – they give people rules and institutions that help them live particular types of lives. Women who are literally left holding the baby have particular reason for favouring it, but as Jason says men do too. Particularly perhaps as they get older and polyamory becomes more difficult to sustain.

    These days there is a much lower price paid for rejecting marriage than in the past, and that may be for the best for the minority of people preferring polyamory, but it is never likely to be a sensible alternative for most people.


  36. I don’t quite get what is going in your (iv). If you are saying that the impact of homosexuality is negligible to neutral as an explanation for the different numbers claimed by hetero males and females, then that leaves us with my original (ii) and (iii). However, I find the male use of female prostitutes to be the more enticing explanation.

    I suppose to test that hypothesis, we’d have to ensure that our sample’s representative credentials were strengthened by including a representative number of female prostitutes.

    I have rarely worked with stats, samples, and such since my masters econometrics courses. However, I have a vague memory that my Econometrics professor would have tut-tutted my simple voila! proposed solution there.

    So, I’m going to hand it over to some stats/sampling whizz – perhaps you AN, or Possum if he is lurking – to take my Hooker Hypothesis to the next level.

    Or maybe some stats savant from the Eros Foundation, the Prostitutes Collective, or similar is an avid lurker here, and will come to the rescue.


  37. Peter – Because there are more young men than young women, we can ‘lose’ some young men to homosexuality and still have enough heterosexual men for the heterosexual women.

    There were some sex workers in the survey, but not enough to confidently draw conclusions from. But given one sex worker could have had sex with hundreds of men, it would go some way to explaining the discrepancies. But realistically only in particularly well-organised brothels are reliable records likely to be kept.

    But I think the incorrect data issue is likely to be real – due to faulty memory, wishful thinking, etc. In some cases the survey is asking people about things that happened decades previously. People who have only ever had one or two partners are probably right as there is little to forget, but for people with larger numbers getting a precise an accurate figure would be harder. No fancy econometrics can fix faulty data. But in this kind of research little turns in most cases in pinning down a precise number. We are looking for broad patterns and tendencies.


  38. OK, now I get your neutralized homosexuality point. EXCEPT, are there really more young men than young women? I thought Australia has a slight surfeit of women? What accounts for this surplus of younger men over younger women?

    Your example about the very popular prostitute is precisely what I am getting at when talking about the bimodal distribution. I would imagine quite a bit of more qualitative research already exists on males who use prostitutes, which would be useful to analyze alongside the statistically more rigorous studies, such as this Sex in Australia survey.

    I wonder if there is any data from which we might glean how many men use say hundreds of prostitutes in a year and vice versa? Being able to construct some attempt at a distribution for that 2% of men who used prostitutes last year could very enlightening.

    But if as the data suggests, the differential incidence of homosexuality between men and women is neutralized by other factors, then it is physically impossible for there to be any difference whatsoever between hetero men and women.

    I am now convinced that this conundrum where every single published survey on this topic finds hetero men have on average more sexual partners than hetero women will probably be explained by different shaped distributions between men and women; with women showing a more distinct bimodal distribution, which perhaps the surveys have not been capturing, thus the sample averages underestimate the real averages, which logically cannot differ from the males.

    OTOH, my hunch presupposes that the data is catching the John’s who use prostitutes (thus inflating the male average ‘score’), and not catching the working girls. Is that a rational presumption? Hmmmm….


  39. Yes, there are always more baby boys born than baby girls. But males are more likely to die young, producing an overall majority of females.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s